Stopping plastics pollution where it starts
April 22 is celebrated as Earth Day to raise awareness on the issues and environmental threats faced by our planet. This year focuses on ending plastics pollution by highlighting the root causes of the crisis and promoting the real solutions and policies needed to reverse this global problem.
Single-use plastics have grave ramifications for the environment. They pollute throughout their life cycle, beginning with extraction and refining and ending in their being dumped in oceans and waterways. In fact, low-income communities, particularly communities of color, disproportionately face the impacts of corporate polluters’ quest for cheap and convenient products.
The magnitude of the plastics crisis extends to impacts on the livelihoods of fishers and disruptions in our food system. Experts have found that because of the amount of plastics entering the marine bodies, the seafoods and fish that we consume also eat plastics. A study published in 2015 which looked into the stomach contents of fish bought at public markets in California and Indonesia found that around one in four fish in the two locations had plastic particles in their guts.
In recent years, corporations have offered the methods of recycling, upcycling, and downcycling to curb the plastics pollution. But these are neither viable nor sustainable solutions. Recycling is not enough. Companies must eliminate problematic products and reduce the amount of plastics they produce while offering alternative packaging and distribution systems to their consumers.
The demand for plastics is created by companies who refuse to take responsibility for the pollution and place liability on consumers. Research published by one of our member-organizations, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, states: “Plastics producers are planning on flooding the markets with a massive scale-up over the coming decades, fueled by cheap fossil fuel extraction like shale gas.”
Instead of heeding global calls for less plastic in the marketplace, the plastics industry is also pushing for false solutions like burning. The industry tends to champion such schemes as “waste to energy,” gasification, and pyrolysis as solutions to the problem. But these methods require ongoing extraction of resources as they fail to keep valuable materials in a circular economy, and they have been known to create harmful emissions like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and greenhouse gases. Far from solving the problem, burning plastics creates new ones.
The #breakfreefromplastic movement believes that decentralized, people-centered innovation is the solution to the pollution crisis. Movement members worldwide demonstrate how an approach involving ecological resource management and reduction, with emphasis on waste separation, product redesign, and systematic waste collection and management, is a sound solution to the growing threat of plastics in our environment.
Our member-organizations, particularly in Asia, are implementing Zero Waste policies that achieve huge waste diversion from landfills, preventing waste from polluting our land and entering our waterways. In the Philippines, for example, San Fernando in Pampanga has a waste diversion rate of 78 percent. Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City pegs it at 92 percent. These show that incineration or other forms of burning of wastes are all industry-peddled false solutions to this environmental problem.
Curbing plastics pollution requires collective action and proactive collaboration among various sectors and stakeholders. Governments, corporations, and citizens have their respective roles to play in finding our way out of the plastics crisis. All too often, the industry’s response to the problem is to downgrade it to a mere waste management issue, and to require municipalities and citizens to bear the cost of dealing with the pollution created by plastics producers and consumer brands.
Without significantly reducing the amount of plastics produced, we cannot hope to stop the plastics pollution.
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Jed Alegado is the communications officer for Asia-Pacific of the global movement #breakfreefromplastic. He holds a master’s degree in development studies (major in agrarian, food, and environmental studies) from the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.
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